Note: This is my first of two additions in the second edition of the #NewPacifism Synchroblog hosted by Rod at Political Jesus. This edition is called Cheap Peace.
Without reprieve, White people talk about the current American-wide protests – rising up since the tragic, police-led murders of unarmed black men and women and then the tragic non-prosecutions of their murderers – as if they are an inconvenience, a negative, a force of destruction themselves. This is a thought expressed by a scarily large amount of White Evangelicals and Christian Pacifists. It is also common for white people sympathetic to the cause (including White Evangelicals and Christian Pacifists) of racial justice to turn the debate around back to the unjust killings themselves. And we draw the focus to the peaceful protests, the candle vigils, the portraits of white and black and brown people of all shades and ages and sizes gathering together and staging die-ins together and white police officers hugging little black children and…
While this is not a wrong approach, per se, what if in a sense the detractors are right? What if what they deem to be ‘violent’1 actions were allowed to stand on their own? What if they were the only reactions; how would we assess that? What if – as Amaryah Shae so brilliantly argued – we allowed the tension that the lootings and burnings and traffic inconveniences are legitimate not just as reactions but as clear philosophical and ethical responses to how White America (which includes our protectorate forces, the military and police) treats Black Americans and blackness?
Petteri Sulonen – Sunset with burning building via Flickr
Can Christian pacifists allow2 for that kind of reaction to stand on its own? Or would it be dismissed as “inherently violent” while little is said about the fact that White America, which includes White Evangelicalism and White Christian Pacifism, views Black people as property: as mere items to be worked, sorted, utilized, discarded, burned.
Which is more violent? Actions that lead to the destruction of a national chain store or justification of the propertification of races of people?
The underlying narrative of anti-black racism is that Black people are slaveable (cf, Andrea Smith again) and as such, are property. Property (including the Property-ness of Black Bodies) is only worth possession and monetary value. It is obvious that some property is worth more than others. White Supremacy is thus confused even as it makes its arguments:
How does property fight back? How does property destroy property?
White Supremacy is trying to negotiate the terms and conditions of the property value of Black Bodies, using police forces and the justice system to do so. So the act of black people destroying personal property is to say that Black lives matter more so than mere personal property3.
Which I see in a very different realm also happening re: Immigration. Brown bodies are at constant risk of deportation in order to keep costs of production down and in order to continue the wheels of capitalism unabated. Smith notes that capitalism is a perpetual death machine needing the slaveability of black people, the otherness (and therefore war and deportation of) Brown people and the continual genocide and land-theft of indigenous peoples. If they were to be paid just wages, then the system could not sustain itself as it were.
This is what mass incarceration and gentrification are in Black & Latin@ communities: Disruption as price negotiation. How can Black and Latin@ communities fight back and demand livable wages and just treatment, White Supremacy has reasoned, if they can’t organize?
As soon as the poor and people of color – and especially poor people of color – organize, the police arrive to reestablish the order.
As soon as they organize unions, union-busting cops show up. As soon as they organize underground economies (as the above-ground economies are not open to them), cops lock them up at rates 20:1. As soon as they organize as working communities in the hood and reclaim their wealth, gentrification comes and the sheriff is at the door. As soon as they organize on the street, the police and the National Guard come to impose curfews, arrest on trussed up charges, throw tear gas at people and canisters at homes (oh, but the Christian Pacifists were mum about this!), to make the simple act of protesting illegal and deem it counter-productive. A constitutionally-guaranteed right is criminalized for Black and Brown folks. But that’s alright as the US Constitution was never for black or brown folk (Consider the very different responses between White and Black people carrying guns in open spaces). Brown people had the land, black people had the work. Out of this was born capitalism.
To claim, as the conservatives and would-be peacemakers do, that less-than-docile protests are counterproductive, is to say that People of Color can only be effective when they are docile. It is to claim that the lives of Cameron Tillman, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Shelley Frey are not worthy of a full expression of human emotions and are themselves worth less than spilled milk. Because property is to be coerced into easy organization.
In fact, Ms. Frey was killed over shoplifting. Mr. Garner for selling loosies. Mr. Brown allegedly for stealing a cheap cigar. Every day, billions of dollars are stolen by bankers and traders through derivatives, federal-guaranteed school loans, and foreclosing homes. On the rare occasion they are charged, their penalty is but a point of a fraction of a percent what they take in. And yet black lives are snuffed out for the slightest provocation. If they go willingly, they are jailed and bail is set at exorbitant rates – so of course black people overpopulate jails when bonds are set at several hundred dollars for lifting a bar of soap, several times the property wealth that black people have.
Garner, Frey and Brown resisted being treated like property in both why they were approached by the police and how they interacted by the police. And they were killed for these infractions. The message is clear: Black people must stay in their lanes. The line must be toed at all costs.
And this message is relayed millions upon millions of times an hour – not just on social media and in the recesses of White Supremacist Internets – but in the very fabric of the White Supremacy framework of America. It is the stuff of White and Black interaction with police, with authorities, with regards to political action, mass media, written and oral histories, the apartheid system of public and private education and the overwhelmingly White face of higher education.
How do we make peace with this? Not through compliance or complacency. Not through respecting the order of things when respecting the order means that People of Color are to be managed like property – like chattel that needs to be corralled and put down if defiant.
By decrying private property destruction, the Cheap Peace of Christian Pacifism prioritizes the matter of capitalism and buildings over the matter of black lives. As if they cannot or will not ask which is worth more.
It is much more expensive to realize that businesses are predicated on a system of economics built upon black slavery – of control and theft – and native genocide – through Black bodies and Brown lands in order to establish White capital. Because that would mean a fundamental shift of order. And that doesn’t seem very peaceful.
1I do not see the point of rehashing this, but fine: People are more important than property. If damage to property causes actual harm to people, then it is violence as far as that extends and only as far as that extends. This must be weighed by context, including the fact that people tend to not listen until shit starts flying sometimes. As Willie James Williams says,
Only in a distorted world turned completely into commodity, could a life be weighed against private property. Yet we hear constantly the comparison between loss of life and the destruction of property as though these things are on the same plane of moral existence. Black life has always lost out in that calculus, because the ideas of law and order have overwhelmingly been orientated toward the protection of property and not black bodies. Christianity in America has much too often served as the high priest of this sick reality of law and order, too quickly aligning our biblical visions of sin and punishment to ideas of crime and punishment, and lending our support to forms of policing that are betrothed to the control of space and married to violence.
2Christian Pacifism is largely if not utterly detached from the world of here-and-now violence that the very communities it exists in perpetuates on their own Black and Brown neighbors – on my next door neighbors. They can speak mightily about the manufactured safety of the War on Terrorism (and it is a needed voice within Evangelicalism), but that becomes easier as it is distant. I have seen zero evidence of a critique of the war on safety for suburban communities – ie, Crime & Punishment and the War on Drugs that targets, literally, black bodies as a precipice for capitalist security. But more on that in the next blog.
3Amaryah has a much-more thought-out perspective than mine, vis-a-vis personal property and the property of black bodies:
[P]rivate property [is] the invention that produces public property, which is black flesh. And this production of public property as blackness is the production of its profitability as its expendability. Darren Wilson received 500k in support of his defense of this division of property, paid leave, a marriage celebration, and a public interview to top it off.
Is it any surprise, then, that so many public services, schools, healthcare, WIC, etc., have been made synonymous with black people and thus able to be hollowed out, evacuated, defunded, disregarded? This is precisely how poor black flesh is treated by the state.